Penguins Know How to
Keep Their Cool
With warmer weather creeping into the region, you may be wondering how our penguins feel about summertime.
It’s a very common misconception that all penguins need snow and ice to be comfortable. Across the globe, penguins live in a wide variety of habitats, spanning from the Galapagos to Antarctica. In fact, all three of the species that call the New England Aquarium home are from temperate climates that are similar to Boston, which means they are prepared for warmer seasonal temperatures.
Whereas their Antarctic counterparts, like the Adélie and emperor penguins, have adaptations to keep themselves extra warm, such as a built-in layer of fat for insulation and interlocking feathers that trap body heat, temperate species have a few tricks up their sleeve to release excess body heat. For example, if you take a look at our African penguins, you’ll notice they have patches of bare skin just above their eyes, also known as heat windows, which allow excess heat to escape.
Penguins also have a specially designed circulation system. In areas where there isn’t much feather coverage, such as the wings and feet, a penguin’s veins and arteries are arranged very close to each other, allowing for easy heat transfer from the outgoing blood (from the heart to the extremities) to the incoming blood (from extremities to the heart). This system is called countercurrent heat exchange. Oftentimes when you take a look at our southern rockhoppers, you may notice a penguin holding one or both of its wings outstretched. By exposing these highly vascularized areas, the penguin allows extra body heat to escape.
Another feathery adaptation that helps keep a penguin cool is its ability to raise each of its individual feathers. By doing this, it can lift the feathers up to allow the layer of warm air trapped underneath to escape, allowing cool air against the skin.
So while we may have our AC units and Popsicles to keep us cool in the summer, penguins have their own ways of beating the heat (and cold)!